Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I've become a bargain shopper

Throughout my life, I've found that, in many ways, I'm not a typical female.  One of those ways is that I don't really enjoy shopping.  To me, shopping isn't a recreational activity, so I don't ever do it for fun or "just to look."  When I do go shopping, I actually need something and usually something pretty specific.  So basically I generally shop like a man.

Many is the time while shopping that I have lamented the fact that I'm not a man.  MM can walk into a J Crew, Gap or Banana Republic store any time of year, any day of the week, and buy the basics he needs: solid-colored T-shirts, jeans, khakis, polo shirts, collared-shirts for work.  And most of the time, he doesn't have to try them on to know that they will fit: he just picks up his size and walks it up to the register.

And the clothes he wants will usually be available in the colors he wants, too. . . basic black, white, gray, navy and other blues. . . subtle plaid or striped patterns.  And those colors aren't going to change much from year to year or from season to season.

As any woman reading knows, the same cannot be said of shopping for women's clothing.  Unless you are buying a piece of clothing that you know is identical to another item you already own from the same store, you will certainly have to try the item on to ensure that it fits and hangs properly.  And your size will likely be different in each brand you try on.  Certain basics can be hard to find, and depending on what is "in" that season, you may or may not be able to find your desired color.  (Example: currently, the shade of blue many people call "royal" or "peacock"--my favorite color and one of the more flattering colors on me--is popular, and I am seeing it in stores everywhere.  But four years ago at this time, when I was trying to find a single shirt or sweater in that color to wear for our engagement photo session, it was nowhere to be found.  All I could find for blues were navy or a deep turquoise.  I ended up having to wear purple.)

Those are the reasons I don't like to shop.  Completely unrelated to money: I'd feel the same way if I were walking into a store with a blank check or if I were given $5,000 to spend ala What Not to Wear.  Enough with my anti-shopping talk. . . this is just to provide the backdrop for my new love of bargain shopping under certain circumstances.

Since our boys were born, and even before, I have been (understandably, I think) tempted by many sales at Gap, Gymboree, Carter's, The Children's Place and other stores.  Let's be honest, baby clothes are pretty cute.  (Girl clothes are cuter, but there are some cute boy clothes in these stores, too.)  I think the regular prices at the stores I've mentioned, particularly Gap and Gymboree, are too high (really, Gap?  $24.99 for a pair of khakis or jeans my sons will wear for a few months?), but I just love their clothes.

The typical fear-of-an-infertile kept me from buying too many things for our sons early in my pregnancy, save a few notable exceptions, and once I had my shower at 21 or 22 weeks (can't quite remember which), we had received so many clothes from generous friends and family that there was no real need to buy anything more than some plain white onesies and side-snap shirts for them.  Also, in addition to gifts, two friends gave me lots of hand-me-downs that were still in good-to-excellent condition in sizes from newborn to 2T, so even after we passed out of the little baby phase for which most everyone receives plenty of gifts, we still had enough clothes not to need to buy more.

Of course, just because our sons didn't (and don't) NEED clothes doesn't mean that I don't WANT to shop for them!  I've found that I actually LOVE shopping when it doesn't involve trying to find appropriate, well-fitting clothes for myself and instead involves finding adorable clothes for my babies (and others) who don't worry about things like muffin top or visible panty lines.

Money is tight in our household these days.  I don't want to "cry poor" because we are certainly doing just fine and are probably much better off financially than a majority of people in this country, but no one can go from being DINKs to a family of four without feeling the pinch.  Our biggest new expense is our nanny, and she is worth every penny. . . but it's a strain on any budget to pay $2000 a month for child care.  Add in the medical bills I wrote about in this post and the other unexpected expenses that come up for any of us (I lost a crown off a tooth; things are wearing out on my 7-year-old car), and there isn't a lot of extra spending money floating around for buying clothes our sons don't need just because I think they are super-cute.

So while I have WANTED to buy things for my sons, I have mostly resisted the impulse.  I stop myself by thinking about the fact that they don't know what they're wearing (and probably wouldn't care even if they did), and that I'm doing them much more good in the long run by having our financial house in order so that we can pay for things like preschool, sports and other activities, and college down the road.

I am fortunate that I have now found a way to buy our sons the name-brand clothes I love, and the baby gear I want, without breaking the bank: my Mothers of Multiples ("MOMs") group's semi-annual consignment sale!  I've shopped kids' consignment stores over the years, both for my sons and for a little girl in foster care for whom I was an advocate for several years, and the prices there don't even come close to the ones at this sale.

I don't generally buy used clothing for myself, but babies and toddlers wear their clothes for such a short time that it's unusual for them to wear them out.  And I find that many of the items at this sale appear to have never been worn.  Now, having my own babies, I can see why: it's entirely possible that they were a gift that was the wrong season or size or that the baby had a growth spurt and only wore the item once or twice or for a special occasion.

Because I've always shopped out of necessity, I've never really experienced the "rush" people talk about when they get a bargain before now.  I don't coupon, and I don't usually shop sales unless it's by accident.

I have to admit, even if the items I bought Saturday at the sale hadn't been things that I know my sons will wear and use, I'd have been hard-pressed to pass them up at those prices!  And I was really excited about the items I bought and about getting such great deals! I was browsing the local kids' consignment store the afternoon of the sale when I stopped to drop off an item for sale, and I found some items very similar to the ones I'd bought--some of which were not even in as good a condition--for three or four times the price I paid for mine.

At the MOMs sale, sellers are permitted to shop first, before regular, non-seller members or the general public, so we get the best selection.  That was the primary reason I agreed to sell, as it's a big time commitment and didn't really earn me a lot of money, comparatively speaking: I wanted to be the first to snap up any suitable double stroller that was sold, and I knew there wouldn't be many.  I figured anything I made from selling my stuff would be just an extra added bonus.

The main item I wanted to buy, the double stroller, would be a side-by-side model that would be suitable for jogging as well as for every day use.  (No, I don't jog, but MM does, and I'd like to have the option in the future if I ever follow through on my intention to get back in shape.  We also have quite a few nearby walking paths that are gravel/dirt vs. pavement, making a stroller that would only roll well on sidewalks or indoors impractical.)  I researched the reviews of various double strollers online, and I narrowed it down to four possible choices:  the Mountain Buggy Duet (retails for around $600); the Baby Jogger City Mini Double (retails for around $400); the Indie Bumbleride (retails for around $675); and the BOB Revolution Duallie (retails for around $500).

According to the reviews, all of these strollers are comfortable, versatile, durable, easy to steer and push, narrow enough to fit through most standard doorways, simple to fold and unfold, and can hold children up to 50-55 lbs each.  So, in theory, were I to buy any of them, it should be the only stroller I'll have to buy, as our sons will be too big for strollers in general by the time they're too big for this one.

As you can see from the prices I've included, they are also all quite expensive!  I've shopped around on the internet for the past few months periodically, and I rarely saw any of them for under $400, even on sale.  Even though it's an item that I plan to use a lot and for a long-ish period of time, I was reluctant to pay that much for a stroller.

At the sale, I was able to buy a used 2009 BOB Revolution Duallie for $180!  It had a flat back tire (it uses standard bicycle tires), and I ended up replacing both back tires and tubes with upgraded tires, to be on the safe side. . . but even with that extra expenditure, the stroller only cost me $250!  I couldn't be happier about it!

As it turned out, there were only two other strollers of my four preferred models besides the one I bought, a Mountain Buggy Duet and another BOB Revolution, and both were priced over $400.  So it's a good thing I participated as a seller, or I think it's very likely someone else would've bought the stroller I took home.  (Neither of the higher-priced strollers sold; I was there when the sale ended and saw their sellers taking them back.)

(Now if the daytime highs would just get under 90 here so I can actually use the stroller. . . OK, complaints about the Phoenix weather are pointless and a topic for another post.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I sold enough of my items and clothing to cover the cost of the stroller I bought (though not the additional cost of replacing the tires/tubes).  So I was happy about that.  And what I didn't sell I designated to be donated to charity, so I didn't have to take any of it back to my house (which, up until this past weekend, looked a lot like a kids' consignment store inside).  Hooray for space!

I also shopped the toddler boys' clothes to round out what we needed in the 12-month, 18-month, and 2T sizes and got some great bargains there as well.  I had a few specific items in mind that I wanted, but I also wanted to see if I saw things that were cute and a good deal.

As it turned out, there were SO many cute clothes for boys in those sizes, most priced quite low, that I had to set myself some parameters or I'd have gone home with way too many things.  So I decided I would only consider an item if it was (1) Gap or Gymboree (I love their clothes, and they wear well), or Ralph Lauren or another high-end brand that I know would have a good resale value in case the boys didn't wear it much, or a brand I recognize and would usually buy and (2) priced below $3.

Even with those parameters in place to limit me, I ended up bringing home a lot of clothes.  I bought 49 items for my sons, and I only spent $68 for all those clothes!  All in good to excellent condition!

I also bought several nice Gap and Ralph Lauren shirts for my godson in 4T (and if he doesn't wear them out, they will eventually be passed back to us), two adorable shirts for his sister, and several outfits for my friend Jay's baby girl, as well as some gently-used baby gear a coworker asked me to get for her soon-to-be-arriving twin grandchildren.  (I got the baby gear--two bouncers and a boppy--for only $34 total.)

Here's a shot of all the shirts, sweaters and pajamas I bought them:

(I thought this shot would be somewhat reminiscent of the pictures people post of their IVF meds at the start of a cycle.)

Here are all the pants and jeans. . . among them two pairs of Gap and one each of Ralph Lauren and Levi's:

We seldom dress the boys alike--for one thing, they are fraternal, not identical--but it's fun to do it once in a while.  I bought them these two matching Gymboree rugby shirts:

I have seen shirts comparable to these ones for sale at Gymboree for $25-30, maybe $15-20 on sale.  These two shirts are like new--they literally look and feel like someone cut off the tags and washed them but the kids never wore them--and they cost me $2 each.

Here are two more matching Gymboree shirts:

These are also in like-new condition.  Cute!

Here is a shot of the rest of my Gymboree haul, minus a pair of Christmas overalls in 6-12-month size that are currently in the dresser in the nursery where my sons are sleeping:

I may have mentioned before that our nursery has a monkeys theme.  While the nursery theme was MM's idea, I like monkeys and enjoy dressing the boys in monkey-themed clothing.  (My BFF jokes that they will either love or hate monkeys when they are older as a result.)  I bought the two of them the most adorable matching shirts for their birthday from Gymboree, primarily because when I saw that the "I am 1" shirts had a monkey on them, it felt like they were destined to wear them.  (BTW, I bought the shirts on sale, 40% off.)

Take a look at these adorable outfits.  They are Carter's brand, so not as much of a "steal" at $1.50 and $2.00 each as the Gymboree clothes, but hey!  They have monkeys!

Given that the sale had been open to members for five hours and to the general public for three hours by the time I returned for my volunteer shift, I didn't expect to find too many more things I'd want to buy. I was wrong.  I found all these Ralph Lauren items, plus a pair of Ralph Lauren jeans I forgot to include in this photo:

Among other things, I found this Ralph Lauren sweater in 2T that looks like it was never even worn.  It was originally priced for the sale at $2.50, but had been discounted 50% when I bought it, so I got it for $1.25!  I checked the Ralph Lauren website, and similar sweaters sell for around $75!

I also bought this sweater for $.75 (reduced from $1.50):

I had never heard of the brand (Red Zebra), but I thought it was cute, and at 75 cents, if they wear it even once, I will have gotten my money's worth out of it.

In addition to the stroller and the clothes, I found a Star Wars backpack personalized with AJ's first name (I only call them AJ & MJ here; in real life, I call them by their first names) and an identical backpack without personalization for MJ!  (Fortunately, my MIL knows a woman who can embroider the second backpack with MJ's name to match the first.)

As I was paying for my items, the mom who sold the personalized backpack saw me and said "Did you find the matching lunchbox?"  I hadn't, but I went back and found it. . . it was priced at $1.50!  The mom told me that her son never even used the backpack because after they bought it he went to a different preschool that didn't allow them.  She despaired of anyone buying it with the personalization and priced it low: $4.50.  (I checked the Pottery Barn Kids website, where these items were originally purchased, and comparable Star Wars backpacks sell for $39.50, and the lunchbox for $22.50.  Plus another $7 per item for personalization.)

The sale stocks kids' clothes and shoes in sizes up to 14, and I noticed a good selection of items at least up to 5T, so I think I will be able to continue to buy the majority of our boys' wardrobe there for a few more years.  Obviously inventory varies based on what members decide to sell, but they have been doing these sales twice a year for the past twelve years, and there are always at least 60 MOMs selling stuff, and their kids are of various ages.

I'm already looking forward to the spring sale in April. . . . 


  1. We also got a BOB jogging stroller as our (hopefully) one and only stroller; my husband has actually run with it, taking Gwen to and from daycare when I'm traveling, but so far my "jogging" has been restricted to running for the bus when it's raining and I don't want to walk home. We were really lucky that my mom coordinated all her friends, my relatives, and the people from her church and they bought us the stroller, even though we were willing to pay full price for it ourselves. It was expensive, but like with the bike seat we recently got (and then got again after my bike + seat was STOLEN, grrr, three days after I bought the seat), we keep telling ourselves that it's cheaper than buying a car! And the longer we can go without having to do that, the happier we'll be.

  2. So many of the things in this post I could have written word for word myself! Although, I do love to shop for myself, but the fact that I have such a limited budget for it sucks the fun out of it. I shop consignment and cheap stores (TJ Max/Ross) almost exclusively for the girls clothes and have a $4 cap on almost everything I'll buy for them. We too got so many hand me downs, but after 2T, they start to dwindle, so I've started picking things up in 3T and 4T now whenever I see a great price, hoping to start building up our stock now. The other day I was whining to my husband wondering where all our money was going, ticking off the list of monthly expenses and he was quick to point out that I forgot the $2000/mo for daycare. Oh right, there's THAT. ;) Just think about when we get these kids into school and won't need FT care, it'll be like instant richness! lol. Anyway, you got some GREAT steals at the MOMs sale... I'm glad there seems to be a cuter selection of boys clothing than there was in the past (teddy bears and trains anyone?) :)

  3. I love the mommy consignment sales! I'm excited to be a seller in the Spring! I've had seller/volunteer friends who have given me a "shop early" ticket for the events this year and I've stocked up. Sounds like you did great!!

  4. Unless it is shopping for deep discounted bargains that aren't usually for me I detest shopping. I prefer online shopping to real life shopping and I hate having to clothes shop for myself. Ugh!

  5. I enjoyed shopping a helluva lot more when I was thinner -- these days, it is torture.

    1. Jess, yes, I hear that. I've never enjoyed shopping but did find it slightly less grueling when I wore a smaller size.

      BTW, I will cross my fingers that your experience isn't like mine. . . but as someone who'd been fat to some extent or other her whole adult life, I thought "eh, how much can pregnancy wreck my body? It's not that great to begin with."

      Yeah. I've eaten those words now. The postpartum body is not a pretty thing, at least mine isn't. . . .

  6. I just missed our local MOM consignment sale -- it was also this past Saturday! But I feel like I have more than enough to get us through 6 months and by then the next sale will be happening (March) and I will be ALL over that! :)

    1. Jules, if it's as good as our local MOMs group's sale, you should definitely check it out!

      BTW, once you pass that 6-month mark and start running low on clothes, email me. Our sons are in 6-9- and 9-month clothing now, so I have lots of stuff I'd gladly send you if you need it. :-)


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